Warning: contains spoilers
The Invisible Man starring Elizabeth Moss has been on my watchlist ever since I saw a trailer for it. I am a big fan of horror movies, and Elizabeth Moss is simply *chef’s kiss.* When I saw the email that SBOG x The Film Society was showing it for Halloween, I signed up right then and there! The trailer of the movie implied that it would be a supernatural haunting of a woman who had escaped domestic violence. While supernatural horror is not my favorite genre (I find human beings much scarier), this trailer served a certain purpose: setting the audience up for a ghost movie.
I arrived at Tower Great Hall at 7 p.m. with my friend and fellow horror-movie-fanatic. We sat socially-distanced on a couch facing the projector screen. I asked the organizer to turn the closed captions on (for some reason I can only watch movies with captions…?) and they agreed. Accommodations: check! We waited for other stragglers to show up, and the movie began. I rate this planned event a 10/10. Thanks, SBOG!
The movie begins intensely: Cecilia Kass, portrayed by the talented Elizabeth Moss, is escaping from her abusive boyfriend’s highly surveilled home. I was on the edge of my seat (or should I say couch?), heart beating, nails digging into my palms, praying that she would escape from the clutches of this unknown perpetrator. She gets away in her sister’s car and starts a new life living at the home of her sister’s friend (… who is a cop). Slowly, she adjusts to normal life. We learn that her boyfriend is a lead producer of optics and is a billionaire. His brother notifies Cecilia that he has killed himself, leaving her the fortune. We see Cecilia’s life begin to heal: she gives a portion of the funds to the cop’s daughter, she begins looking for a job and she is happy. That is when things begin to take a turn for the worse: she sees remnants of Adrian, her (ex) boyfriend, everywhere. While everyone else in her life is convinced that she is experiencing PTSD-induced hallucinations, she is sure that Adrian has found a way to become invisible, and is torturing her.
It dawns upon us that this is not a ghost movie but an innovative blend of sci-fi and horror. We find out that Adrian has made a suit of blinking cameras that turns the wearer invisible. We experience Cecilia’s descent into madness, with nobody around her trusting her. This is even more of a loss than before: no one she loves believes her, she is all alone — and her body is no longer her own — because she is pregnant with Adrian’s baby. We follow Cecilia’s mission to prove her sanity and that Adrian is behind all of this, all while she is institutionalized. Finally, after many guards are shot by this unseen entity, Cecilia finally catches the man while he is beating the cop-friend up, but when she reveals his identity, it is Adrian’s brother. Adrian, who claims he was kidnapped by his brother, is still alive. He somehow convinced the world that he was the victim of his brother. Finally in the end, Cecilia uses the suit to kill Adrian, getting her ultimate revenge.
This rollercoaster of a movie made me scream more than once, due to jump scares, and left me with a feeling of gratification by the end. I celebrated Cecilia’s killing of Adrian, both physically and metaphorically, as she rids herself of his hold on her and everyone around her. Elizabeth Moss perfectly portrayed the neuroticism, anxiety and loneliness that survivors of domestic abuse can feel. We were given a glimpse into her state of mind when everyone believed her to be mad. This movie also addresses a plethora of social issues — intimate partner violence, lack of institutional support for survivors, birth control sabotage, wealth disparity as a source of control, victim-blaming and mental health dismissal — in an emotional, heightened reality that makes us all the more empathetic.
Digging into my sluggish brain, I can interpret this movie as a symbolic ghost movie. The cool sci-fi and technology that enabled Adrian’s invisibility could be reimagined as modern tools that continuously make us relive our memories, tools such as social media and photos, which enable our past to live on in our mind, manufacturing the feeling of being haunted. I also thought of this movie as a commentary on the release from abuse as a “metaphorical death” to the survivor. After that moment, the survivor is no longer in the grasps of the abuser. I also could see an argument to be made that the film is a social critique of the surveillance state as oppressive and abusive to the common person, who cannot seek escape. A violent upheaval, a revolution of the corporeal body, is required to destroy the oppressor by using their own tools of technology. But I am not a film major, so I will stop there.
One aspect stood out to me and disturbed my orientation of the whole movie: the romanticization of cops. It is no accident that the producers chose to fill that role with a Black man with a daughter, a Black man who seeks to protect his family and Cecilia, a Black man with empathy and a sense of justice. Although we see the institution of police as flawed when they fail to believe Cecilia about her abuse, individual cops are still portrayed as noble saviors. There was one particular scene in which Cecilia praises her sister as brave, saying “you’re like a cop.” That particular line stood out to me because, in my vocabulary, being “like a cop” is in no way a compliment. We know in reality, cops are responsible for a high percentage of intimate partner abuse and that law enforcement does not adequately protect victims of abuse.
To be fair, the producer, Leigh Whannell, is a white Australian man, and the movie was released in February before the mass protests against police brutality and media coverage of Black Lives Matter. But in the modern climate, watching the portrayal of cops in this movie and juxtaposing it with reality was highly uncomfortable and jarring for me, and it took away a lot of my mental space that would otherwise have enjoyed the movie much more.
Many of our sibs have to sit through movies that glorify institutions that harm them irreparably in real life; they have to ignore the propaganda and turn off their critical thinking in order to enjoy popular entertainment.
In the end, after the celebration of the death of an abuser, my mind pondered what justice actually is for people like Cecilia. I thought back to the middle of the movie, where Cecilia seemed to be healing: she had adequate funds, loved ones supporting her and was no longer haunted by Adrian. Those were the moments in which she had comfort. Did she actually achieve justice by killing her abuser physically? What holes exist in institutions that made it necessary for her to take such measures?
Or maybe, it was just an entertaining horror movie and nothing beyond that.